EU financial woe pushes stocks and won lower

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EU financial woe pushes stocks and won lower


Currency traders watch the won’s depreciation at Korea Exchange Bank’s headquarters in Seoul yesterday. The won weakened to below 1,100 against the dollar for the first time in nearly four months. [AP/YONHAP]

The stock and currency exchanges in Seoul were clouded yesterday by growing risks in Europe, in particular the increasing possibility of a debt default in Greece. The continuing turmoil introduced today’s anniversary of an event that ushered in the 2008 financial crisis: the bankruptcy filing by Lehman Brothers.

Korean financiers are watching especially closely the foreign exchange market; the Korean won has weakened past the 1,100 won mark against the U.S. dollar for the first time in nearly four months. If that currency weakness persists, economists fear the effects on domestic inflation that has already risen to well above the government’s target.

The last time the won hovered around 1,100 won was on May 25, when it closed at 1,101.80 won before appreciating to 1,088.30 won the following day.

The weakening of the Korean currency is good news for Korean exporters, whose profits have been squeezed even though export shipments have continued to grow.

That is of little solace to consumers, however, as many experts forecast that inflation will continue to rise until the risk of financial earthquakes in Europe subsides.

The won closed at 1,107.80 won against the U.S. dollar yesterday, after losing 30.50 won in the first day of trading after the long holiday.

“The Korean won depreciated to the 1,100 won due to fears of a debt default in Greece and of the downgrading of French banks,” said Hong Seok-chan, a currency analyst at the Daishin Economic Research Institute.

Fears that the global economy could be faced with a crisis similar to that of three years ago have been spreading rapidly across the globe.

There is growing speculation that Greece may default on its debt; separately, Moody’s downgraded its credit ratings for France’s Credit Agricole and Societe Generale. It kept BNP Paribas on review for a possible downgrade.

Consumer prices in August grew at a faster rate than the government had anticipated - 5.3 percent on-year. That is far above the government target of 4 percent.

Bank of Korea Governor Kim Choong-soo took responsibility for a failure to tame inflation at a press conference held after the monthly monetary policy committee meeting on Sept. 8.

“Inflation [in August] came in higher than it did in the past, and we expect the upward momentum to continue,” the governor said at that press briefing.

“It is true that we had projected consumer prices [in August] to grow in the upper 4 percent range,” Kim said. “The price of fresh agricultural produce shot up higher than we had expected and the increase in the gold price also contributed to the unexpected growth.”

He suggested that the central bank may revise its forecast for the consumer price index increase this year.

Although the central bank froze the nation’s key borrowing rate at 3.25 percent this month for the second consecutive month, citing external uncertainties such as slowing economic growth in the United States and debt problems in Europe, Kim stressed that taming consumer prices still was a priority of the central bank.

According to an earlier study by the central bank, a depreciation of 10 percent in the won’s value against the dollar results in a consumer-price increase of 0.5 to 0.8 percent.

Experts project the Korean won could further depreciate to 1,120 won by the end of this week if the momentum continues.

“The currency could fluctuate strongly every time news related to Europe is announced,” said Kim Seong-soo, a foreign exchange dealer at Kyongnam Bank.

Hong of Daishin Securities, however, said the weakening of the local currency may be limited since many countries including the United States and the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) have offered to participate aggressively in solving the European financial crisis. But a recent Bloomberg report said a Greek default within the next five years was only two percentage points short of a certainty.

While the won weakened, Seoul’s main exchange tumbled below the 1,800 mark yesterday.

The Kospi dropped 3.25 percent to 1,749.16.

This was in stark contrast to the Dow Jones average, which gained 0.4 percent to close at 11,105.80 in Tuesday’s trading. Most other Asian markets retreated for the same reasons. Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 fell more than 1 percent while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index lost 0.9 percent.

Foreign investors were net sellers yesterday, withdrawing more than 680 billion won ($613 million) from the stock market.

By Lee Ho-jeong []

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]

이번엔 프랑스 은행 … 유럽판 금융위기 오나

리먼 파산 3년째 … 그리스 시한폭탄에 프랑스 2, 3위 은행 신용 강등

3년 전 악몽이 떠올랐다. 추석 연휴를 막 끝낸 2008년 9월 15일 미국 투자은행 리먼브러더스가 파산한 것 말이다. 올해도 추석 연휴가 끝나자마자 큼지막한 악재가 터졌다. 프랑스 대형 은행들의 신용등급 강등이다. 국내 금융시장엔 주가와 원화가치가 급락하며 충격파가 번져 나갔다. 14일 오후 미 신용평가회사인 무디스는 프랑스 2위 은행인 소시에테제네랄의 신용등급을 Aa1(AA+)에서 Aa2(AA)로 낮췄다. 3위 은행인 크레디아그리콜의 신용등급은 Aa2(AA)에서 Aa3(AA-)로 강등했다. 모두 한 단계씩 등급이 떨어졌다. 무디스는 “두 은행이 그리스에 빌려준 돈이 전체 대출금 가운데 적지 않은 수준”이라며 “최악의 경우 두 은행이 영향 받을 수 있다”고 설명했다. 그리스 채무불이행(디폴트)이 발생하면 두 은행이 부실해질 수 있다는 얘기다.

 화들짝 놀란 투자자들은 위험자산에서 달아났다. 코스피는 3.5% 넘게 추락했다. 일본 주가는 1% 남짓 떨어졌다. 서울 외환시장에서 달러당 원화가치는 30.5원 급락한 1107.8원으로 마감했다. 정영식 삼성경제연구소 수석연구원은 “무디스의 프랑스 은행들에 대한 신용등급 강등이 불안심리를 증폭시켰다”며 “원화 가치가 계속 떨어질 걸로 보기는 어렵다”고 말했다.

 일본 엔화의 가치는 급등했다. 엔-달러 환율은 역사상 최저 수준인 76엔 선을 맴돌았다. 위기 때 빛을 보는 안전자산이기 때문이다.

 그리스도 시한폭탄이다. 8월 말 현재 3330억 유로(약 516조1500억원)의 빚을 짊어지고 있다. 올해 긴축 약속을 지키지 못해 9월분 구제금융 80억 유로를 받을 수 있을지 불확실하다. 그리스가 국가부도를 선언하면 그 충격은 고스란히 유럽, 특히 최대 채권국인 프랑스의 시중은행들을 덮칠 수밖에 없다. 이른바 유럽 재정위기의 금융위기화다. 그러면 리먼 사태 때처럼 글로벌 자금줄이 마르면서 빚 1조9000억 유로(약 2900조원)를 짊어진 이탈리아마저 위기에 빠질 수 있다.

 다급해진 앙겔라 메르켈(57) 독일 총리는 13일 “갑작스러운 그리스 파산은 재앙”이라며 최악의 사태를 막겠다는 의지를 천명했다. 하지만 이날 그리스 국채값은 폭락해 1년 만기 수익률이 100%를 넘었고 2년 만기 수익률은 70%를 돌파했다. 하루 뒤인 14일 서울 등 동아시아 주가가 미끄러졌다. 시장이 그의 말을 반신반의해서다. 가장 큰 이유는 리더십이다. 메르켈이 이끄는 집권 연립정부 내에선 요즘 유럽 구제작전을 두고 의견이 첨예하게 충돌하고 있다. 또 그리스 경제는 긴축을 견딜 체력을 이미 상실한 상태다. 극심한 침체, 실직자 급증, 사회 불안에 시달리고 있다. 구제금융 대가로 약속한 긴축을 더 이상 지킬 수 없는 처지다.

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